This article is based on a seminar I presented at GP Strasbourg in 2013. Since giving the presentation, I’ve had a lot of feedback from judges requesting some additional pointers on developing their local judge community. Given that, and that community development is one of my personal passions in the Judge Program, I’ve decided to collect all the information and tips in this article.
- a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
- the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common
The pivotal point these definitions share is “commonality” – it means any community has some shared interests or characteristics that define it as a unique group.
So how does this relate to judging? There are a number of different bonds we share as judges, but some of the most common are as follows:
- A love of the game –a passion for all things MTG is often a unifying factor for judges
- Enthusiasm for the rules – many judges are technically driven, and it’s the mastery of complex rules interactions that motivates them
- Leadership/charisma – for many of us, judging provides a means to exercise and develop our leadership skills that we can’t satisfy elsewhere
- Cultivating each other’s skills – teaching is a very rewarding endeavor, and many judges find fulfillment in being able to act as a mentor or guide for younger colleagues in the judge community
Let’s take a look at the challenges that face a developing judge community, before we try to identify ways to overcome them using the “common bonds” we’ve outlined above.
- A lack of knowledge or awareness – there are many potential judges who simply don’t know enough about the Judge Program. These are people who would fit right in with the philosophy of the Judge Program, but who don’t know how to go about becoming part of it.
- Misconceptions – many judges continue to play MTG both casually and competitively – one doesn’t always have to judge, and there are many regular REL events one can simultaneously play and judge. And thanks to the structure of the judge program, one is able to remain in control of the time and resources one puts toward judging – some might be comfortable remaining at L1, and occasionally judging small events at their local stores, while others will want to invest more time and energy, becoming involved in projects on a global scale.
- Geography– if a judge community is physically far from its nearest neighbours, it can stifle the growth of the community. Many countries will have one or two small towns or cities that are geographically remote from the country’s “MTG hubs, and this can make it difficult to foster development of new judges in these areas
- Isolation – certain countries and regions are quite isolated in both local and international terms. Some communities are not fortunate enough to have multiple PTQs per season, and the various premier-level events they do have are often spread out across large distances. Their players and judges may rarely have the opportunity to participate in large events such as Grand Prix. Without the exposure to competitive and high-level events, judges are often unaware of the international standards and expectations of the Judge Program, and this can lead to a stagnation in their development.
Steps for growth
- initial growth stage– the focus is on finding new candidates, certifying L1s and forming the backbone of the fledgling judge community;
- maintenance stage– the community has started to grow and become self-sufficient, and the focus shifts on maintaining the current growth rate
- further growth stage– the focus is on improving the skills and contributions of individual members of the community, rather than simply growing the numbers of judges in a particular area.
In order to grow a community of judges from scratch, one has to realize the judges of tomorrow are the players of today. In our local playgroups there are undoubtedly individuals who have the requisite personality traits and motivations to become judges, but they may not be aware of this. In order to identify potential L1 candidates, it’s very useful to engage with local gaming stores and tournament organisers.
You might find it useful to engage with players to get their thoughts on what being a judge involves and entails in order to identify which misconceptions are prevalent in your community. A great way to show players, for example, that judges can play as well as judge, is to participate in some local events – just remember to maintain the professional demeanour that’s part and parcel of being a judge, even if you’re playing.
One of the most effective ways to open the channels with local TOs is to “do the rounds” – if you can manage to attend a few FNMs or other events at the local stores in your area, it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce yourself as a judge, and to explain to the event organizer the importance of having a judge in his or her store, and to expand on the benefits that having a resident judge can bring. These are the people who have the most regular interactions with the players who will one day become part of our community, and it’s vital to have local TO input and assistance in identifying candidates who show an interest in the judge program.
Ease of access
We also need to be sure we make the Judge Program as accessible as possible for our new candidates. You can prepare a document that welcomes the candidate, thanks them for their interest in the judge program, and provides a few useful links or resources for them to get started.
It should explain how the eventual testing process works, introduce the RC for your region, and contain links to the rules and policy documents candidates need to study for their test, as well as JudgeApps and relevant Facebook groups and forums. It’s important to keep this document concise and updated – it’s meant less as a “step by step guide to the Judge Program”, and more as a resource of “where to go and who to talk to” to aid them on their journey.
It’s also useful to designate someone, if your community has the resources, to act as an advancement coordinator for your candidates – this judge can play the role of a contact person for new candidates, keeping a record of their progress and checking in on them every so often.
Just making contact with candidates every so often (even a simple e-mail or Facebook message every month or two) helps make them feel like they’re being looked after by someone in the community, and makes them feel more involved even before they have been certified. It’s also useful to have a single person responsible for tracking candidates’ progress in a certain area, so we know where to look for the information when we want to follow up with our candidates.
Develop a mentorship program
A mentor should be a certified judge who is able to check in with the candidate on a regular basis, answer any questions or difficulties they might have, and ensure they’re progressing on their way to certification. Don’t spoon-feed the candidate, but rather act as part of the candidate’s support structure. This relationship has the dual benefit of not only helping the candidate in his or her journey to certification, but also allowing the mentor an opportunity to improve his or her own skills.
Maintenance of a developing community
Once you’ve set the foundation for your community to begin expanding, it’s important to maintain its development and prevent stagnation. These activities and pointers are mostly directed at fostering a group identity within the local judge community, ensuring all its members feel like they are part of a greater organization.
It’s important to have our certified judges feel like they’re part of a community, and one of the best ways to do this is to encourage regular interaction between the judges who constitute that community. Getting the judges together on a regular basis for some sort of fun social gathering (be it EDH, bowling, a barbeque, board-games or other outings) helps foster a bond between judges and a sense of camaraderie and kinship. It helps to affirm the understanding that we share a bond even when we’re not running events, and it lends an air of excitement to their involvement in the Judge Program. They will invariably begin to challenge each other with rules questions and policy scenarios, and so these events often allow a platform for the exchange of ideas & perspectives, and for mutual education.
By encouraging the judges in one’s community to present a professional image at their events, we create an air of prestige that becomes associated with the local judge community. If our representatives are correctly attired, punctual and polite, players will surely take notice, and it portrays the judge community in a very favorable light – it makes us come across as the kind of group that people aspire to belong to.
By establishing a presence for your community on a social network (e.g. creating a Facebook group for your local judges), you enable a continuity of communication and interaction. The social network can act as a repository of knowledge, a discussion platform for questions, scenarios and problems, and as a venue for social interaction between judges and judge candidates.
Once you’ve begun to develop and grow your judge community, your focus shifts to growing the quality of judges.
Setting goals is an important practice, on both an individual and a community level. By taking some time to plan out how many new judges we’d ideally like to certify in a particular area, we’re better able to plan towards achieving that goal. For example, if your community needs 6 new L1’s certified, approach 3 local L2’s, and give each of them 2 candidates to look after. This not only helps grow a community in terms of numbers, but it also ensures you are developing existing judges by affording them an opportunity to interact with and mentor new candidates. This should be a two-way discussion – help the judges create goals that will get them there.
This concept extends also to levelling up existing judges – if you have an experienced L1 judge who has become quite involved in the community as a whole, encourage that judge to set a goal for his or her advancement. It’s much easier to sit down and study the IPG if you want to reach L2 in the next three months than if you have a vague idea of “I’d like to eventually reach L2”.
It’s important that we strive to make the Judge Program as recognizable as possible. By maintaining a visible presence for the judge program, we remind players, TO’s and store-owners of our valuable contributions, and this in turn gives us an incentive to maintain our own professionalism and integrity as judges.
This doesn’t have to be limited to physical events either – many of our regions will have a Facebook group or discussion board for local players, and there will often be rules questions or disputes that arise on these channels. By having our judges participate actively in these discussions with players, we’re able to increase the players’ awareness of the judge program, and bolster our group identity as judges. It also ensures players know where to find judges, and understand we are approachable and helpful.
International feedback and global discussions
The next step in improving the quality of our judges is to encourage them to participate in the Judge Program on an international level. Of course, it’s great for a judge to be able to attend an event like a GP, where he or she will be exposed to other judges from various parts of the world, but it’s not always feasible for judges, especially in remote areas, to attend these sort of events.
By encouraging our local judges to register on JudgeApps and begin reading or even participating in the forum discussions, we can open up a new avenue for them to further their development.
Make judging fun
This is probably the single most important point of this entire article. We’re responsible for developing and growing our communities and for ensuring the culture that underlies our activities is one of fun and enjoyment. The only real limit here is creativity – whatever you plan or schedule for your judge community, be sure to step back and ask yourself “will this be FUN for my judges?” The best way to encourage judges to develop themselves and to continue growing their community is to ensure their involvement in the Judge Program is challenging and associated with enjoyment.
Each community is unique, and what may be appropriate for one might be inappropriate for another. This article is certainly not exhaustive in terms of strategies for community building – it’s intended as a guideline and a resource, and I hope it will inspire you to come up with some of your own ideas and strategies that are applicable to your particular community.